Storm emergency declared in Virginia

The aftermath of Tropical Storm Ida is causing flooding up much of the Atlantic seaboard Thursday. In Newport News, Va., firemen are called on to help a pedestrian caught on a flooded street.
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) declared a state of emergency Wednesday evening, authorizing state and local agencies to take necessary precautions against coastal flooding as the state is walloped simultaneously by a coastal northeaster and the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida.

The wind and rain that was pelting Virginia and the Washington region was forecast to continue into Saturday, with flooding occurring in low-lying areas.

"The bulk of the storm's impacts are in the Hampton Roads area," said Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "We do not have any lane closures or impact to report in Northern Virginia. We will have crews standing by and folks on call there and throughout the state."

Laura Southard, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said several dozen residents had been rescued from their homes. Shelters were opened to be ready in case evacuations were ordered.

Floodwaters were expected to crest at more than 30 feet at high tide on some Chesapeake Bay tributaries, setting a record, she said.

The Virginia State Police reported 141 accidents in the Hampton Roads area since the rain and wind arrived. The James River Bridge and the Midtown Tunnel (between Norfolk and Portsmouth) were closed, and the Jamestown-Scotland ferries stopped operation after high water flooded the loading ramps.

Winds were gusting to 60 mph by late afternoon at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which spans the bay's mouth, but cars and pickup trucks were being allowed to make the 20-mile crossing.

"Anything close to hurricane force [73 mph], and we close down," said Tom Anderson, bridge-tunnel deputy director.

Two hundred miles up the bay, officials closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to house trailers, empty box trucks and other vehicles that might be effected by high cross winds.

To underscore the danger of driving in heavy rain, the American Automobile Association released national statistics indicating that 739,200 crashes occur each year during rainfall, killing 3,400 people and injuring 357,300.

"When rain falls at this pace, motorists in our area tend to drive too fast or slow down too much. Research shows both pose risks in adverse conditions," AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II said.

Virginia's emergency declaration is intended to improve coordination between local officials and state agencies, including state police, the Virginia National Guard and the departments of Game and Inland Fisheries, Social Services and Transportation. It also authorizes local officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders.

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